Podcast 272 – Review of Desert or Paradise DVD

Paul, Emily Aaston & Tony Aiuppa discuss the video “Desert or Paradise”, starring the mighty, the glorious, the amazing Sepp Holzer, which Paul got from Zak Weis in a trade for his 4 DVD set.

Paul says he scheduled the podcast to get away from angry stuff. He mentioned a guy who was bashing Sepp this morning and posits that chem-ag is paying people to infiltrate the the permaculture community and bash permaculture.

Tony brought up the new “cider press” forum on Permies. Paul talked a bit about his decision to introduce this.

Paul brings the discussion back to the video. He starts by saying how beautiful it is. It shows several multi-year sequences of shots where Sepp did his thing. Paul talks about how the immediate results are sometimes shocking but in the following years, the benefits become obvious.

Emily mentions a scene near the end of the video where Sepp says you need to use heavy machinery to heal land because that’s what was used to mess it up. Trying to do it all with a spade would take forever. Paul quotes Sepp as saying, “It took big equipment to fuck things up; it’s going to take big equipment to make things better.” He has some reservations about this, though.

Paul brings up a few things he didn’t like about the video. He sees various errors and places where he disagrees with what is being said. He wonders whether this is sometimes a problem of translation or maybe Sepp is just not getting his ideas out clearly. They talk about a complaint he made about a big dam and what they thought he might have meant.

Paul talks for a while about the resistance from some people to cutting trees or bulldozing. He agrees that they are modifying nature, but in a sensitive and respectful way, and that the result is better than what was there before, and “nature approved”. He says the best comparison, though, is not with what was there before but with typical agricultural land.

Paul disagrees with Sepp blaming the big dam for deserty conditions nearby. He says if anything the dam would be responsible for increasing the humidity and moderating the local climate, which should encourage local plant growth. Paul thinks the poor conditions nearby are likely caused by bad management practices.

Paul said that the next part of the movie bounces around a lot between projects in Spain and Portugal and he found it confusing. Paul and Emily talked about the emphasis on water features needing both deep and shallow areas.

Paul talks about a dam feature called a “key“, which is a ribbon of high-clay material within a dam that is the actual sealing feature. He says he sees this key in all the work Sepp has done lately, including in this movie, although Sepp has repeatedly called keys a “catastrophy” and has recently denied that what he was using was a “key”. Paul says that if there is a difference, he’d like to know what it is.

Paul talks about a Sepp project where a place with sand dunes was transformed to a land of lakes. The trick was to discover the topography of the land under the dunes (possibly by drilling many holes) and use that as the basis for transforming it. Paul says much of this stuff seems very obvious. They talk for a while about Paul’s earthworks workshop.

Paul goes back to discussing “how to create an oasis”. Once the sub-topography is known and a place is chosen for a dam, you simply scrape away the sandy overburden before building a dam so it can be properly sealed. After the original material is put back into place, the oasis should eventually form as the dam raises the water table.

The movie goes on to show them building hugelkultur beds. Paul brings up an instance where he was asked if the sticks Sepp uses to pin mulch down over the bed would not cause drying of the beds. Paul says yes, they do, but the effect of the mulch they hold in place more than makes up for this drying.

Paul gripes about the cardboard, paper and rags that went into the hugelkultur bed in the video. He’s not happy with the gick that would get into the soil (and food) by that route. Tony suggests using mushrooms to ameliorate the problem, but Paul is skeptical that all the gick would be fixed this way. They also have a discussion of how other, better materials are nearly always available.

Paul brings the discussion to topo maps. There was a short shot in the movie which reminded Paul about P.A. Yeomans work.

Paul’s last discussion point is Sepp’s emphasis on involving children. He tells Sepp’s “crocadile” story. They all talk about various ways to make sure children have opportunities to connect with nature.

Emily brings up an interview with some Russians at the beginning of the movie where they talked about adding texture to a flat piece of land. She said this hit home with her because previously she’d been thinking in terms of finding land that already had the texture she wanted.

Tony said he would recommend this video to anyone who wants to start a homestead or permaculture project because it had a lot of cool, inspiring stuff in it. They all agree that it is a very worthwhile video.

You can discuss this podcast on this thread at Permies.

Credit: Mike Ewing and Marianne Cooper